This week the Foundation’s Fellowship Director, Immanuel Commarmond and I, as part of further policy meetings of the Global Entrepreneurship Research Network, are attending the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Congress(GEC) in Moscow, Russia. This year is the sixth iteration of the congress which has previously been hosted in diverse cities such as Dubai, Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai.
The event grew out of the success of the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) which has over 140 countries participating in November each year. All these countries involved in GEW felt the need to gather together in one place to share learnings leading to the birth of the GEC which itself is now one of the largest entrepreneurship events of the year with over 4,000 delegates expected in 2014.
One of the main objectives of both GEW and GEC is to drive greater understanding of the importance of entrepreneurship and create an enhanced entrepreneurial culture in participating countries. As described by the Kauffman Foundation’s Jonathan Ortmans in his opening address, “Entrepreneurship has been transformed from a subject of narrow commercial significance into one of substantive cultural consequence that signifies the potential of human endeavour for the benefit of all.” This message about the possibility of entrepreneurship was reinforced by the opening keynote address from Vivek Wadhwa of Singularity University. Wadhwa challenged those present to divert their attention from such things as photo sharing apps and focus on building the things we have been dreaming about, the things that matter, because for the first time in human history entrepreneurs have the ability to solve humanities grand challenges. If we don’t do this we will be missing the biggest opportunity of our time. This consistent message of the possibilities of entrepreneurship was even more powerful when one considered that these statements were all being made a mere stone throw away from the Kremlin!
The importance of entrepreneurial culture was brought home in a session on Entrepreneurship Education through a stark comment from a Russian panelist now working at MIT in America stating that: “20 years ago being an entrepreneur in Russia was shameful. “ This observation serves as a strong reminder of the powerful underlying influence of a country’s entrepreneurial culture; its invisible evaluation of the status and value of entrepreneurship – an area where there is still work to be done in South Africa. Thankfully in Moscow at least, this previous shame has been transformed into celebration in the form of the resounding success of the 2014 GEC.
The most inspiring session of the first day was an afternoon meeting entitled “Unleashing African Entrepreneurship”. It was exhilarating to see one of the largest halls of the conference filled with people, from 30 different African countries, demonstrating their dedication to entrepreneurship on the continent, including none other than one of our Allan Gray Fellows, Ludwick Marishane.
Ten speakers shared on a range of exciting initiatives from Zambia to Cape Verde, not forgetting South Africa. Much of this was being facilitated by LIONS@FRICA, a partnership to enhance the startup and innovation ecosystems of African economies.
An important initiative announced during this time was the request for Africa to make use of the Startup Genome platform to map the different entrepreneurial ecosystems in Africa. The highlight of this session was a public declaration from GEW Chairman, Jonathan Ortmans that he wants to see the GEC hosted in Africa in the next few years. Now there is an opportunity worth pursuing.
Throughout the many varied sessions from public policy, education, and mentorship to technology, discussions often returned to the three basic elements of human, social and financial capital. No matter how complex this field might appear it is these three that remain constant. The same three that are at the heart of our mission, with the Foundation focused on developing human capital, and the resulting Fellowship creating a powerful catalyst for significant social capital, before finally having E2 able to provide financial capital.
The most impressive statistic of the day was from a quote referencing a Kauffman Foundation research report which revealed that MIT Alumni founded companies generate a combined annual turnover of $2 trillion. It made me speculate briefly as to what figure might yet be generated by Allan Gray Fellows, before remembering the far more interesting earlier challenge from Vivek Wadhwa. Responding to the latter would without doubt be an investment in greatness.